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Arlo Pro 4 Spotlight review: The best security camera, but there’s a catch

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
220
inc VAT

A superb security camera with oodles of features and great image quality, but you have to pay a subscription to unlock it all

Pros 
Loads of features
Colour night vision
Great image quality
Cons 
Useless without a subscription
Alarm setup is fiddly
Jerky object tracking
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The Arlo Pro 4 is the latest in a long line of security cameras from the company that was originally affiliated with Netgear. In that time, Arlo has become one of our favourite systems, combining flexibility, good build and image quality with reasonably priced cloud video clip storage.

The Arlo Pro 4 continues in a similar vein, coupling great image quality with a host of smart features and the flexibility to position it wherever you like. The big downside, however, is that you don’t get the free cloud storage that once came with all Arlo cameras, meaning you’ll have to pay a minimum of £2.79 per month to unlock the camera’s main capabilities.

Arlo Pro 4 Spotlight review: What do you get for the money?

The camera itself costs £220, which is on the expensive side for a security camera, but it’s a well-made thing that inspires confidence. In the box, you get the camera itself and a magnetic mount for attaching it to the wall, plus screws and plugs to help you get started. There’s no stand, though, so this might not be the best camera to choose if you want something you can simply pop on a shelf indoors.

On the plus side, it doesn’t need an extra hub for connectivity as some security cameras do. All you need to do is run through setup in the accompanying Arlo app and the camera will connect directly to your wireless network via 2.4GHz Wi-Fi (802.11ac).

Video resolution isn’t particularly special, however. The Arlo Pro 4 records HDR video at 2K resolution (2,560 x 1,440), which is only slightly sharper than 1080p; however, it’s the Arlo Pro 4’s other features that set it apart. It has a built-in siren for deterring would-be criminals, an integrated spotlight that allows it to record at night in full colour, and innovative features such as animal detection and automatic object tracking and zooming. The camera also works with Google Assistant, Alexa and, unusually, is also compatible with Apple HomeKit, although for the latter to work you’ll need an Arlo base station.

Alas, there’s a theme here: most of these features require a subscription to one of Arlo’s subscription-based Secure plans before you can access them. Although you do get three months free and the subscriptions aren’t particularly expensive after that – prices start at £2.79 per camera per month and unlimited cameras cost £8.99 per month – it’s a bitter pill to swallow after already having forked out £220 for the camera.

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Arlo Pro 4 Spotlight review: How well does it work?

Generally, the Arlo Pro 4 works pretty well. Imagery was beautifully sharp and crisp in my tests – on a par with the outdoor Nest Cam and slightly better than the Eufy SoloCam E40 – and I found the colour night vision works well, too. Don’t expect visuals as sharp and crisp as those in daylight; there’s a slightly murky quality to images that softens everything markedly.

I found the person and animal detection worked surprisingly effectively, however, and even with my cat quite small in the frame, the camera reliably generated video clips tagged “animal detected”. With the camera mounted on the outside of my garden office, I didn’t get the chance to put the vehicle detection to the test, but the camera notified me with a “person detected” notification, without fail, every time I left and approached the building.

The camera also offers automatic zoom and tracking for detected animals and people, which sounds like an attractive feature. Amazingly enough, it worked, but I found the movements were rather erratic and jerky and the digital zoom didn’t add any extra detail. I disabled the feature as a result.

Battery life was decent and it doesn’t take long to charge either – just 2.9 hours, according to Arlo’s claims, which I wouldn’t argue with at all. After installing the camera and setting it to “Best Video” in the app, it lasted a solid month and a half before needing to be recharged. With the more conservative “Optimized” or “Best Battery Life” power management options selected, however, Arlo says you can stretch that out to between three and six months, depending on the frequency of detected events.

A small irritation is that the USB charging cable provided has a proprietary magnetic attachment at the camera end, which isn’t ideal. You can purchase the Dual Charging station to make this easier (and less likely you’ll lose the cable), but that’s another £50 on the bill.

Arlo Pro 4 Spotlight review: Is there anything it could do better?

Aside from that, there are plenty of other annoyances, too, starting with audio. Although the camera has both a speaker and microphone and offers two-way audio, it didn’t work brilliantly in my tests, with lengthy six-second delays. This made carrying out conversations over the camera a difficult, if not impossible, task. On this front, the Nest Cam works better, offering almost instantaneous audio communications.

The way the siren works is also rather clunky. You can manually activate it via the live view screen, which works fine, but it’s a little quiet even if it is piercing enough to be annoying. Alternatively, you can have it automatically go off when the camera detects motion.

The way this is set up, however, is bizarre. You have to use Arlo’s Rules tool, which allows you to set up more complicated triggers based on location (geofencing) and schedules. You can’t restrict the motion-triggered events to object types, meaning this is only going to be useful indoors where things such as shadows, animals and moving vegetation aren’t likely to trigger the alarm by accident.

And I’m afraid I can’t pass this section by without another mention of the fact that most of the features of the Arlo Pro 4 will stay out of reach unless you pay a subscription fee of at least £2.79 per month per camera. It isn’t unusual for security camera providers to do this but, considering how much the camera costs to buy in the first place, I don’t think it’s too much to ask for some features to be available for “free” without having to pay up.

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Arlo Pro 4 Spotlight review: Should you buy one?

For that reason, I can’t recommend the Arlo Pro 4, even if I wanted to. Security camera manufacturers are going to have to wake up at some point to the fact that users are going to take umbrage at having to pay to use something they’ve already bought to the fullest of its abilities.

That’s a shame, because otherwise, the Arlo Pro 4 is a competent security camera, with some excellent features, including animal detection and colour night vision. Image quality is superb as well.

As Google has proved with its new Nest Cam, and Eufy with its entirely free-to-run SoloCam E40, you can produce a security camera that doesn’t lock every useful feature behind a monthly subscription. That begs the question as to why you’d buy the Arlo Pro 4 instead.

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